Although this section on internet was written for Santa Cruz, in general the process is the same at other phone/internet companies throughout the country.
DSL and dial-up internet service is provided by COTAS, the only local phone company in Santa Cruz. Other companies that provide these services do exist, they just don’t provide your phone connection, so you have set up your phone service ('servicio de telefonía local') with COTAS prior to contacting them. Check out my section on how to get a
connected in your home or office.
COTAS has several plans you can choose from.
In addition to dial-up (which is so extremely slow you’ll be pulling your hair out by the roots and anyway, it occupies your phone line while you’re connected), there are the following DSL plans (called ADSL here) to choose from.
The most obvious advantage is that with DSL you aren’t blocking your phone line while it’s in use, but it’s also much faster. You just have to choose HOW fast you want your connection to be. Most people choose their plan according to their budget, since as you’ll see, these services cost MUCH more than in the U.S. and other countries (up to 10 TIMES MORE!)
(You can find this information in Spanish at www.adsl.cotas.net):
The ADSL 6,300 minutes/month plan runs at 128 Kbps and costs $20 a month.
The BA 128 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $29 a month
The BA 256 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $40 a month
The BA 384 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $49 a month
The BA 512 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $72 a month
The BA 768 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $99 a month
The BA 850 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $115 a month
The BA 1024 Kbps plan with no time limit per month costs $135 a month
COTAS tells me their internet services cost roughly 8 to 10 times more than in the U.S. because they pay Chile, Brazil and other countries for the use of fiber optic cables in order to provide these services to Bolivia. Other internet providers in Santa Cruz are ENTEL, AXS, SCBBS, and they all use the same fiber optic cables that COTAS uses, so like when in March 2008 a landslide damaged the cables, ALL internet providers throughout the city were down and all customers were out of luck.
I use COTAS myself. The speed of your connection depends a little your distance from one of the COTAS central offices. I happen to be fairly close to the main office downtown. I pay for the 256 Kbps plan per month and my connection is fast (it has to be, I design a website, after all). A couple of miles away, another friend of mine has the same plan and it works like dial-up (lots of hair-pulling going on).
So one of the things you can do is choose your plan (or internet provider) by their distance from your home or office. With COTAS, you can sign up for one plan and try it for a while, and if it isn’t working well for you, you just go to www.adsl.cotas.net and you can switch your plan yourself, online. It will take 24-48 hours for the connection to be changed. The only thing is, you are only allowed to switch plans once a month, so keep that in mind. COTAS also has a tech support number you can call between 8 am and 1 am: 800-12-8000. Or you can always call 103 and request they transfer you.
On the same website you can also do speed tests yourself to see if your connection is running at the speed you are paying for. You can also set up your email addresses there. With each plan, depending on what you pay, you are allowed a certain number of emails. For example, with the plan I use (256 Kbps at $40 a month) I am allowed up to 5 email addresses. (They would look like this: firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you choose COTAS, you can approach one of the COTAS offices personally, or call 103 from your phone and request a promoter be sent to your house. They will bring your contract with them, help you choose a plan, and explain all the things you get with your plan. All you will need is a copy of your passport or local carnet, since they already have all your other information from when you set up your phone. If you set up with other companies, you will have to take a copy of your I.D., possibly a bank statement, and a copy of your water or electricity bill so they can make the connection properly.
There are two COTAS offices, the main office at the address shown to the right, and another one on Prolongación Aroma (which is not far from the Cristo and the Palacio de Justicia) which is called COTAS CABLE and basically is the cable TV office. However, you can also set up a phone and internet there.
If you choose COTAS, your internet bill is automatically billed to your phone bill each month. Your initial phone bill will include a $25 installation charge. COTAS often waives the installation charge as a promotional offer. However, you must stay with COTAS at least 7 months under contract. If you cut off your service prior to the 7 months, the installation charge will be added to your next phone bill.
Bills must be paid monthly and, as with water and electricity, you are responsible for calling the company once a month to ask how much you owe. COTAS does not send you a bill. Instead, billing for the previous month is available by the 3rd of each month, so at that time, you dial 103 from your phone, ask how much you ow, and then you must then go to the company offices or your
to pay your bill.
Other companies provide similar services at similar prices. However, you must remember to set up your phone line first. I’ve been told my friends that use AXS that it is an especially good internet provider as well. ENTEL is largely a long distance and cellular phone provider and internet is sort of a sideline for them but from what I understand, they do an OK job too, it isn’t their forte nor is it their priority. SCBBS is a great company with good management (I used them for 8 years), but sadly, they provide only dial-up at this time. They do, however, provide many other really GOOD services and I’m happy to recommend them.
On that subject, when you are looking for a company to provide your internet service, be aware that there are dozens of companies that provide website design, domains, domain parking, and a host of other services and are listed in the phone book and other city guides online. These companies do not provide CONNECTION to the internet, so ask before you go.
Getting ADSL does NOT automatically mean you will have access to wireless (WIFI). WIFI is an additional $5 a month at COTAS. ENTEL also provides wireless service.
If you have any questions about anything, COTAS customer service can be reached simply by dialing 103 from any phone or cellphone. Information (if you’re looking for a number) is 104. To find out how much you owe on your bill each month, dial 102. You can also refer to the COTAS 2008 directory information pages (found at the beginning of the book).
COTAS services are generally as good as any other company. However COTAS is NOT an especially good customer service provider, so I am not suggesting COTAS is the way for you to go. It is the only phone company so you don’t really have a choice there, but you do have a choice when it comes to internet, long distance, and cellular phones. So do some checking, visit their offices and other companies, and get a feel for yourself before you make a choice. I personally believe that having no competition is the reason COTAS has no motivation to improve. I also resent that they make you feel like they are doing you a favor by providing you their services. (Consider this an editorial comment).
UPDATE: The Bolivian government nationalized ENTEL in February 2008. There is very little information available on how it will be operated in the future, although so far there has been no interruption in its services and it appears to have been taken over in name only. Most services remain unchanged.
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